The situation in the international protectorate of Kosovo then is far removed from the success story described by spokesmen for both Kfor and UNMiK. This is in large part because of the distorting effect of the international presence, which stymies self-generated improvements in infrastructure and economic conditions. However the international community’s commitment to proper governance and the rule of law is nowhere more questionable than in the way it deals with suspected criminals - as the events which took place in Kosovo on 14th December 2001 demonstrate.
Around 1.30 pm that day, the last day of Ramadan, a unit of Italian carabinieri (military police) and other Kfor troops surrounded the offices in Djakova of two humanitarian organisations. They arrived with tanks and were surveyed by helicopters whirring above. The Director of one of the charities, the Global Relief Foundation, was in his office and he bid the soldiers and the police welcome. They responded by telling him to get out. He was threatened with beating and told to come with them. He was made to stand spread-eagled against a wall and his cap was violently pulled over his eyes so that he could not see. He was taken to the main military base in Djakova, where he was brutally pulled out of the vehicle by the face. He stumbled to the ground and the soldiers started to beat him. They pulled his up, causing him great pain in the process.
He was taken inside a building where he was stripped to his underwear and made to stand in a freezing cold room. He was kicked. His money and passport were taken away and the soldiers laughed as they did this. When he fell over, they beat him again and again – “maybe 20 times”, according to the account he gave to BHHRG. Then he was told to sit down. A heater was brought and his clothes returned. After an hour or so, he was handcuffed very tightly and painfully and dragged by the wrists to a helicopter. He was convinced that the soldiers were going to kill him by throwing him out of the helicopter but instead he was flown to Camp Bondsteel, the huge American military base in Kosovo. There he was kept outside in the cold for half an hour. He was then taken inside, finger-printed and told to sign a form outlining the rules and regulations of the camp. He was given orange prison clothes and placed inside a small hut measuring 3 metres square. By this time it was about 10 p.m. Although there was a heater, it did not work and consequently the hut was extremely cold.
Although he begged his American captors to let him go and return to his family, the man was to be kept in Camp Bondsteel for 38 days. Only after 6 days was he allowed to phone his family. He was interrogated 20 or 30 times during his incarceration. On one occasion, the interrogation occurred at 4 o’clock in the morning. Every night, he was woken every fifteen minutes and then every hour. Torches were shone into his eyes to make sure that he was awake, or the door slammed in order to disturb him.
During the interrogation, a number of false allegations and accusations were made. This had a profound psychological impact on the captive, who told BHHRG, “It destroyed me”. He begged not to be kept in solitary confinement. After 4 days, a letter was brought accusing him of complicity in the attack on the USS Cole and saying that he would be detained for 30 days. He was made to sign this form. Later, however, his captors returned and asked for his signed copy back. 10 days later they brought a different letter saying that he was being detained as a danger to security of Kosovo under the terms of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244. In other words, no proper charge was made.
After 14 days of captivity, a woman from the OSCE visited the man and told him he had the right to a lawyer and to a translator. Neither of these ever materialised. After 32 days, the Red Cross visited him. During the whole time, this man was in a deeply suicidal state. He was given Valium of which he apparently took too much.
After 38 days in captivity, he was released. Two other men who had also been taken captive on 14th December were released at the same time. One of them is a doctor attached to the Global Relief Foundation; another is a citizen of a European Union country who works for another humanitarian organisation, COF. Like the GRO, it is basically a Muslim organisation which gives humanitarian assistance to the Kosovo population which is mainly Albanian Muslim. The EU citizen’s organisation paid monthly stipends to 1,000 fatherless families and provided educational facilities, including computer literacy (though like other IT schools in Djakova it lacked internet access because of the parlous state of the phone system complicated by frequent power cuts and the lack of local ISPs).
These two other detainees received the same treatment as the first, except that they were not beaten by the carabinieri at the moment of their arrest. No charge was served on any of them; none of them ever saw a lawyer; and of course no judicial proceedings were brought. Two of the three men are Iraqi exiles. They evinced no sympathy for the current Iraqi regime, blaming it for the hardships which forced them into exile abroad. They now fear for their lives if they ever try to return to Iraq: Saddam’s security police will surely consider them to be American agents, having spent over a month at an American military base at a time when US media regularly report the plans of the Pentagon to use dissident Iraqis to spearhead an assault on Saddam Hussein’s regime. They are therefore now without income, their foundation having been closed down, and with nowhere to go, prisoners in a foreign land, even if no longer confined at Bondsteel. Their insecurity is a form of mental torture.
Police searches were also conducted on 14th December on another humanitarian organisation in the town of Djakova, the Al-Haramain Foundation. Founded by the Saudi government, it runs a small community and educational centre for young people in Djakova, who can go there to play table tennis or pool, or to learn how to use a computer. The centre also offers religious instruction. BHHRG interviewed the Secretary of the foundation, who was also highly critical of the way in which Kfor had conducted itself that day. “It was like the Serbian police,” said the Kosovo Albanian man who ran the centre. To add insult to injury, the Kfor troops came with a Serbian – not Albanian - translator, thus reinforcing the impression that Kfor was behaving like the Yugoslav authorities before 1999.
As with the raids on the other organisations, Kfor insisted on breaking down the doors even though a porter was present in the building who was happy to let them in. They took away a video camera and 11 computers from the class room. No official explanation was given by Kfor as to why the computers were taken, and when BHHRG interviewed the man in early February, they still had not been returned. (Like the EU citizen’s school the computers at Al-Haramain had no internet access and so could not have been used to communicate with the outside world, let alone Afghan-based terrorists).
It is perhaps also worth adding that the men said to BHHRG representatives that no one had been to see them “in a kindly way” as BHHRG did. BHHRG is based in the United Kingdom and came all the way to Kosovo to see them; but why did none of the legion human rights organisations based in Priština bother to make the short journey down to Djakova? What are human rights organisations for if not to study apparent cases of abuse of the rule of law?